Health Care Overhaul Could Overwhelm New York’s Primary Care Physicians


Primary care physicians in New York already care for a significant number of patients. Federal data has shown that there are nearly 18,000 physicians in New York State who provide primary care for 19.6 million residents, which was the 11th best ratio in the country. With the federal health care overhaul adding 1.1 million insured people, there is a legitimate worry that primary care physicians will be overwhelmed.

It has been estimated by the New York State Department of Health that there are 2.7 million uninsured people in New York. Of this group, 615,000 individuals and 450,000 small business employees will enroll in the state’s health exchange to obtain coverage in 2014. Additionally, it is expected that 75,000 more individuals will be covered under Medicaid when the program expands under the Affordable Care Act.

With the increase in the number of insured people, one physician believes that within the next five years patients will be cared for by mid-level practitioners. Due to high debt from obtaining their degrees and the low reimbursement rates in New York, many physicians are leaving the state or choosing to enter higher paid specialties with better hours such as dermatology or cardiology.

Impoverished inner city and rural areas around the country are especially hard hit by the shortage of primary care physicians. In these areas it takes months and possibly years, to hire doctors. This lack of primary care is a detriment to people’s health. With some doctors not taking on new patients, the increased number of insured people will make it even harder for people to be able to see a doctor, even if they have insurance.

New York State’s medical society has urged lawmakers to make the state more hospitable to physicians. They have suggested limiting liability costs and increasing the Medicaid payments made for services. New York is also devoting significant funds for programs that aim to put more doctors in underserved areas. Other states have proposed bills that expand the roles of nurse practitioners, optometrists, and pharmacists. Critics of this move believe that such changes would lead to inequalities within the health care system, where some people have access to doctors while others do not. Other states are trying to fill the gap by increasing the supply of family doctors and other types of physicians that are in need. Unfortunately, these measures are unlikely to close the gap quickly. Access to health care could even become worse for some people before it gets better.

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